January 31, 2020/US SEC
On Wednesday, Jan. 29, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged a Pennsylvania man with defrauding Amish and Mennonite community members by making false claims about the use of their funds and guaranteed returns.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Philip E. Riehl provided accounting services to Amish and Mennonite communities and developed his own investment program, pooling money raised by selling promissory notes to community members. Riehl allegedly raised approximately $60 million over nearly a decade and promised to invest the funds in business and real estate loans to others in the religious community. According to the complaint, Riehl falsely claimed he required two co-signers on every loan, and would personally guarantee repayment with interest. The SEC’s complaint further alleges that Riehl also sold investors promissory notes issued by Trickling Springs Creamery, a dairy business that he owned, without informing the investors about the company’s financial difficulties and mounting debt. The complaint alleges that in late 2018 when the dairy was in dire straits, Riehl diverted money to it from at least one investor, against the investor’s wishes. In a 2019 letter to investors, Riehl allegedly apologized for his dishonesty, including repeatedly stating that he required two co-signers on each loan, which gave a “false sense of security, in that such a considerable percentage of the funds were channeled into my personal projects.” Trickling Springs Creamery ultimately failed, filing for bankruptcy in December 2019, and Riehl was unable to pay back investors.
“Promises of guaranteed returns or investments without risk are classic warning signs of fraud,” said Kelly L. Gibson, Associate Regional Director of the SEC’s Philadelphia Regional Office. “It is important to learn as much as possible about your investments, even if it means questioning someone you know and trust, including someone within your own faith-based community.”
The SEC’s complaint charges Riehl with violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. Riehl agreed to settle the charges against him. The settlement, which is subject to court approval, provides for injunctive relief and return of allegedly ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest.
In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced criminal charges against Riehl.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Paulina L. Jerez of the Philadelphia Regional Office and supervised by Ms. Gibson and Kingdon Kase. The litigation is led by Mark R. Sylvester and supervised by Jennifer Chun Barry. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities.